These pretty DIY painted plant labels are headed to the new garden, and I’m super excited! Despite being a cheap and fairly simple project, they look sensational and are extra durable for long-term outdoor use in our New Zealand conditions. I love these DIY painted garden labels, and I’m not alone. Every garden visitor, from family to friends to tradies, has commented on the plant markers. Most want to know where to buy them. The ultimate compliment for a crafter, perhaps. It’s much more my style to show you how to create and customise your own. Here’s how they were made!
Creating and Customising My Own Outdoor Labels
Made with painted plywood, these durable DIY custom plant name tags are meant to last as long as the plants and/or myself call this garden home. The double drilled holes make it easy to feed a strand of string through the tags, and double tie points help to hold the tags securely in position so they’re not battered about by winds. Stretchy t-shirt yarn works well to hold securely but gently around trees, the supporting stakes for brambles or climbers, wires, trellis, tree stakes, and many other potential attachment points. As a mini update, these plant labels have been in use for several years and are still looking great. Now that most of our plants are more mature, the tags have been moved onto posts. The drilled holes work perfectly with screws for longer term attachment.
This is the second set of tags I’ve made using this technique, and I’ve tweaked the method a little. My old tags were made of scrap shim wood, but these tags are made with thick and sturdy plywood for more durability. The rougher plywood surface was roller primed and then painted with a white exterior gloss to prepare the surface before masking and spraying with a matt grey overcoat. I also adjusted the font and format to enlarge the plant variety text for easier weeding. Full DIY details are below.
Wait a Second... Wow! That's a Lot of Plant Labels!!!
I know! Look at all those big plants and the huge variety of fruit trees! Unlike the inherited hardscaping and plantings in our previous home, this garden is a new build fresh slate. We’ve decided to put in some careful planning and lots of hard work (and cash) to create a mini orchard and edible garden. How have we squeezed so many plant varieties into a suburban garden block? Lots of clever tricks! I’ll be sharing more info on that here on the blog as things develop.
Masking vs. Stencilling
My plant names were applied using masks for easy, pretty, and consistent lettering. The custom design is used as the mask on each label. These masks are painted over, then peeled away to reveal what’s underneath. True stencils are the opposite. The design is cut away and the surround retained for use as the stencil. Paint is applied over the top while the stencil shields the rest of the base below. This post from Sparkle Tart describes the difference between stencils and masks very well.
For my purposes, using masks for the lettering was efficient for large volume painting and required a lot less vinyl (less cost, less waste) than making full stencils. It also gave additional layers of paint to the surrounding plant label to bolster the weather protection and durability. You can easily adjust your approach on the DIY instructions below to stencil you project instead of masking, if you wish.
How to Make DIY Custom Painted Plant Labels
Supplies and Materials
To make your own similar tags, you will need a computer-controlled cutter (see note below), vinyl or similar, weeding tools, and transfer tape (or other suitable template), wood and basic tools, suitable paints, and string for attaching the finished tags (if using as hang tags). I use t-shirt yarn. It’s great for gentle use on plant ties: soft, slightly stretchy, easy to use, and gentle on plants. Scrap materials to protect your surfaces whilst painting are always handy, too!
Note: I used my Cricut (affiliate link) to make custom templates for the plant names. If you don’t have a computer-controlled cutter or prefer a different approach, you can also make markers using simple alphabet stencils of a suitable size or freehand the text. Unfortunately, my hand lettering skills wouldn’t make the cut. Haha! Conscious crafter? See my footnote below on Cricut crafting and waste.
Making and Preparing the Wooden Bases
- Select your wood for the project. It needs to be suitable for outdoor use post painting and thick enough to reduce the risk of splitting/cracking but still thin and lightweight. Tip: I used using a 7mm 1200×1200 sheet cut down to size, and it is a whole lot easier to prime it all and paint the stencil side first; however, you can cut first and then prime/paint if you prefer.
- Prime (optional) both sides of your wood. Paint one side in the colour you would like to use for the finished letters and allow to dry thoroughly so that your stencils won’t stick and/or lift the paint when removed. Follow the instructions and safety precautions for your chosen product. Ensure all of your chosen products are compatible.
- Cut the prepared wood into tags of a suitable size. You can add the holes now or after transferring the masks if you’re not sure about placement. Either is fine, as long as it’s before you paint the top colours so that the holes are weather sealed.
Creating the Custom Name Stencil Masks
- Create your lettering templates. I used Adobe InDesign to make mine and imported it as a single image (easy to size perfectly), but you can easily import an image file create from another program as a jpg or png, or just create the typography directly in Cricut Design Space. Remember, the smaller the text, the harder to weed both pre-application and post paint!
- Format your project so that the masks will be your desired size
- Cut on the machine.
If you have leftover vinyl in a colour you’re unlikely to use, stencilling and masking projects are a good opportunity to destash craft supplies. I used sheets from a multipack in colours that I’m unlikely to want for projects. If you’re printing multiple sheets and have a partial sheet to cut, you might like to wait and cut that after you have weeded the rest. The final sheet is a good chance to add any reprints if/as may be needed (weeding bungles, noticed typos, fit-check fails, etc…). Also, a few extra dots are always handy in case you discover an orphaned i or j post-weeding.
Applying the Masks to the Prepared Bases
- Separate your plant labels and weed the excess material away from the text template. Patience required, it gets tiresome if you are making a large batch. I did mine over a few days with other tasks in between.
- Use your preferred transfer tape (I use clear peel and stick laminate) to transfer the templates onto the prepared tag bases. Rub to burnish firmly into place to avoid lifting or bleeding.
Painting and Finishing the Custom Garden Markers
- Apply a thin coat of the same colour paint as your base letters over the top to help seal the edges of your mask and reduce the risk of bleeding.
- Based upon the recoat times for your chosen paint products, apply thin even layers of top colour paint incrementally to all sides of your tags. Allow to dry.
- Carefully peel away the mask template vinyl to reveal the lettering. You will need to use Cricut tools or similar, such as tweezers (shown) to lift the painted over stencils. Even more patience is required for this post-paint weeding, but it’s worthwhile in the end!
- If you want/need to apply a compatible clear coat (optional), apply according to the product directions and allow to dry thoroughly before use.
Reflections on Cricut, Vinyl, Crafts, and Waste
I wanted to add a little footnote on this post about Cricut, vinyl, crafts, and waste. As someone trying to be more eco-conscious, I have a love-hate relationship with my Cricut when it comes to vinyl. Paper? Ok. Vinyl and such? I’m a little more reserved. I dislike clutter and I try not to make toss-away crafts (unless they’re future recycling/recyclable projects). My Cricut craft projects are usually for a special purpose or long term use, which helps soothe any eco-conscious crafting guilt.
There was definitely waste from weeding and the temporary masking in this project, and that’s something I am always conscious of when using vinyl. The markers, however, are for long-term plantings and should last for many years, which is way more than I can say for most of the different plant markers and tags I bought and tossed over the years. This is the second time I’ve made painted tags and the old ones that moved with us on our portable potted citrus still look great.
Perfect? Zero waste? Nope! But considered, balanced, and moderated.